Over the past several years, I have been appalled at the mediocrity and depravity which seem to have taken over television. Monotonous crime shows and lame (and increasingly vulgar) sitcoms dominate the screen. Reality TV shows are the latest rage, and from what I’ve seen on their ads, they represent yet another nadir in our cultural disintegration. So aside from my addiction to Steeler football games; I try to "just say no" when it comes to the latest fare from Hollywood. By and large, I have ceased watching TV.
A few friends of mine, knowing this predilection, have nevertheless been extolling the virtues of a relatively new show called The Apprentice for quite some time. This past season, I finally succumbed to their prodding and watched the show.
The Apprentice, for fellow anti-TV partisans, is a reality show starring Donald Trump. Basically, it follows the trials and tribulations of a small group of young people as they compete in two teams at various business tasks. Each week, the losing team has to report to the boardroom, where Donald and two of his sidekicks evaluate their performance and fire one member of the losing team. At the end of the season, only one person is left standing. This individual is awarded a high-profile job in Trump’s organization.
With some reservations, I have to admit that it is a pretty good show, both from entertainment and philosophical perspectives. In particular, The Apprentice has four unique qualities that make it worthwhile viewing:
#1: The Apprentice portrays young Americans in a positive light
Reality shows have generally tended to depict young people in a terrible manner. The granddaddy of reality television, MTV’s The Real World, set the bar pretty low. That show featured a group of young people from different backgrounds living together in a house. The cameras followed them around as they pursued various smarmy endeavors. The "stars" tended to be lazy, directionless, and compulsively indulgent in a wide variety of vices.
Things went even further downhill with The Bachelor. That series portrayed a group of young women (mostly gold diggers and TV starlet wannabes) cat fighting over an annoying single guy. Once again, young people were shown as being hedonistic and petty.
The Apprentice is a refreshing break from this mold. The contestants are generally clean, ambitious, articulate, and motivated. They have goals that extend beyond their banal appetites. This season’s two finalists, for instance, included a young man who graduated from West Point, served in the Rangers, and later earned an MBA and a law degree from USC. His opponent was a woman who graduated at the top of her class at Princeton and went on to earn a law degree from Harvard. They both performed admirably, displaying a great deal of intelligence and tenacity.
Seeing young folks like these restores one’s faith in the future of our nation. I’m not exactly sure why the TV moguls prefer to glorify the flotsam of our younger generations, but I’m thankful that this one time they decided to aim higher.
#2 The Apprentice also portrays free market capitalism in a positive light
For some strange reason, the folks who write, direct, and produce movies and TV shows tend to be devout leftists. Off screen, they can usually be found working for a variety of socialist causes. Not surprisingly, their political views bleed over into their artistic endeavors. The "rapacious businessman" character is shown engaging in morally repugnant activities so frequently that it is now canned and melodramatic.
The Apprentice is thus unique. At the very heart of the show is a struggle for market share and profit. The contestants show teamwork, resourcefulness, and determination to accomplish their goals and defeat their competitors. The unspoken backdrop to this competition is that free market economics is not only the best method to deliver goods and services to the public, but that the process is admirable and moral.
This is a profound breakthrough in our culture, and it is one which all libertarians should welcome.
#3 The contestants are forced to take responsibility for their actions
Dodging responsibility has replaced baseball as America’s favorite past-time. Our court system is clogged with cases involving people who have created complex rationalizations for their misdeeds. These rationalizations usually serve to evade accountability and slough blame off on other people or on "society" (my personal favorite is the rash of civil lawsuits where drunk drivers blame their bartenders for serving them too many drinks).
I have also noticed that the most vociferous opponents of capitalism are usually found residing in either academia or government. These institutions are similar in the sense that most folks dwelling therein are protected from the stress of the marketplace and from the consequences of their actions. Academic tenure and the civil service code render such individuals nearly immune from performance-based scrutiny.
In The Apprentice, the contestants are given business tasks. These tasks include things such as generating advertising campaigns, selling products, or renovating and marketing parcels of real estate. At the end of each match, the team which pleases the customer the most or who turns the most profit wins. The losing team subsequently files into the boardroom for a dramatic confrontation with Trump and his executives. Their performance is scrutinized and the least productive individual is eliminated from the competition. Whenever anyone attempts to dodge responsibility or "pass the buck", things usually get ugly.
Given the realities of our contemporary culture, I find all of this refreshing. In addition, it might also help viewers from academia and government to see what the rest of us deal with on a daily basis.
#4 It Irritates Liberals
Perhaps the best thing about this show is that it sends my liberal friends into paroxysms of rage. To them, the show represents the worst aspects of "unrestrained and avaricious American capitalism". They dislike the focus on competition, accuse the show of sordid materialism, and generally view it as an apologia for an economic system that is responsible for oppressing the poor and despoiling the environment.
This is all, of course, ridiculous. But discussing the show with liberals always affords one a good chuckle or two.
On this basis alone, The Apprentice is a keeper.
Perhaps the only major downside of the show rests with Donald Trump himself. He plays the egotistical CEO role quite well and is always good for a quip or two in the boardroom, but I have a difficult time integrating his strict performance demands with his own spotty business past. On virtually the same day that I saw him chastise a contestant for a flimsy performance, news stories broke that his organization was filing for bankruptcy…again. There was a time when bankruptcy was a personal disgrace and the mark of an abject failure. But "The Donald" was quoted in the media claiming that bankruptcy is just a strategy and that it is no big deal.
Stiffing your creditors is no big deal?
Not in my book.
I think that it is only reasonable and consistent that the CEO on The Apprentice should be someone with personal accomplishments and successes that legitimize his tough scrutiny of the contestants’ performances.
I’m just not sure that Donald Trump is that man.
Nevertheless, I believe that the positive aspects of this show outweigh the negative. If you must watch TV, The Apprentice is not a bad choice.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.